Thursday, August 31, 2017




          Buried in the back pages of newspapers and not even making it onto many television and radio news programs this summer was the news that Gov. Jerry Brown again refused parole a member of the murderous Manson Family gang, while a parole board denied freedom to another.

          But these actions raised more questions than they answered. For example, should heinous killers like Charles Manson and most of his vicious followers ever be allowed back on the streets? What might new and younger governors with no personal memories of the Manson-inspired 1969 murder spree do when parole boards made up of their appointees recommend freedom for these and other murderers whose crimes are in some ways comparable.

          In his latest refusal of a Manson Family member’s parole bid, Brown denied release to Bruce Davis, convicted in 1972 in the slayings of musician Gary Hinman and movie stuntman Donald (Shorty) Shea. Brown did not deny that Davis has improved himself and gone 25 years with no prison discipline for misconduct.

          But, he said, these things are “outweighed by negative factors…incredibly heinous and cruel offenses like these constitute the ‘rare circumstances’ in which the crime alone can justify a denial of parole.”

          Brown’s action came within a day of a ruling by a parole panel at the California Institute for Women in Corona blocking release for former Manson follower Patricia Krenwinkel, whose lawyer insisted she only went along with the Manson murders because of physical abuse by Manson.

          The board wasn’t buying it, perhaps because Krenwinkel was one of several “Manson girls” who came to court daily during their trials with X’s carved into their foreheads as signs of continuing support for Manson. Krenwinkel was one of those who cut power and telephone lines at the Beverly Hills-area estate of actress Sharon Tate and then murdered her and four others, stabbing them over and over.

          The next night, she helped kill grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in the Hollywood Hills, helping carve the word “WAR” into one victim’s stomach and scrawling other words in blood near the victims’ bodies.

          Besides the murders themselves, one troubling part of all this is that parole boards persistently recommend release for some Manson followers. They are perhaps the best-known of many sadistic California killers, including the likes of Edmund Kemper, the Santa Cruz area’s “Coed Killer” of the 1960s and ‘70s, and Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, the notorious “Tool Box Killers” who kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered five young women in Southern California in 1979.

          While Brown has said that some serious criminals can “change their thinking,” he has always left the Manson Family killers out of that category. No one knows if future governors will do the same.

          That’s why it’s high time the Legislature created a new category of crime, one whose perpetrators can never be considered for parole. Had such a law existed when the Mansons and some others were convicted, relatives of the victims would not have to feel compelled to attend parole hearings and revive their pain every few years just to make sure the most brutal of murderers don’t go free.

          For sure, the Manson followers have been like a plague on California’s consciousness that’s impossible to eradicate. They keep trying for parole and Brown keeps saying no, as did predecessors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Perhaps these killers are encouraged by the success a few of their former pals in the Family had in getting released: Linda Kasabian in the 1970s as part of a plea deal that saw her provide key testimony against Manson and friends, Steve Grogan in 1985 for leading authorities to the body of Shea on the Spahn Movie Ranch near the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth and Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme in 2009, more than 30 years after she tried to shoot then-President Gerald Ford. None of those three, however, participated in the Tate or LaBianca killings.

 The repeated parole attempts are certainly within the legal rights of all convicted killers, but they should not be. It’s high time legislators make sure no future governor can ever loose this worst sort of criminal back on the public.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to




          The first time Jerry Brown was governor of California, his greatest policy defeat came when resentful Northern Californians voted almost unanimously in 1982 to reverse a legislative vote authorizing a massive ditch around the delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers.

          This was called the Peripheral Canal; it aimed to bring Northern California river water to the farms of the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California.

          Once that plan died, anything remotely similar became political anathema for decades until Brown retook the governor’s office in late 2010. Demonstrating that his goals rarely change, Brown soon began pushing for a more sophisticated and expensive version of the canal, this time two giant underground concrete culverts rather than an earthen ditch like the original canal plan.

          Brown has pushed this tunnel plan all through his second go-‘round in the Capitol, and now it may be reaching a decisive point. Not only are water districts around the state becoming concerned about who will pay the project’s cost of about $17 billion (plus interest), but local governments in the immediate area are alarmed over a host of environmental issues.

          In late August, Sacramento County sued to stop the plan, which might make water supplies more reliable, but would produce very little more water than moves south from the Delta area without the tunnels in an average year.

          Cities like Stockton and Antioch, hard by the Delta and its latticework of canals and streams, plus the Placer County Water Agency and several groups of commercial fishermen also are suing.

          Sacramento County’s action says the state Department of Water Resources ignores environmental harm to the Delta, including the taking of almost 700 acres of the county’s farmland out of production during the projected 13-year construction period. The county also says its water quality will drop, as would the quality of water flowing to and through the Delta after the tunnels open.

          State officials deny most of this, insisting water quality in the Delta will improve and be far more controllable if the tunnels are built. The conservation groups Restore the Delta, Friends of the River and the Sierra Club  joined the lawsuits, too, insisting the 35-mile-long tunnels flout the California Environmental Quality Act (known as CEQA) and would cost up to $67 billion by the time they’re done.

          Enter money. This project might be a pretty tough sell in Southern California once more of the public fully understands the cost, with little prospect increasing water supplies to the region.

          Even the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water to more than 15 million persons from the Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains to the Mexican border is a little bit querulous. The Met, as the district is often known, supported the original Peripheral Canal and has generally backed the tunnels, arguing they can stabilize water deliveries to its vast area.

          But in August, the Met’s staff reported that “The costs of the California WaterFix (a recent name for the tunnels) are substantial.” The staff added, though, that “the costs that would be allocated to (the Met) are reasonable and affordable, given the water supply reliability improvements.”

          But some members of the Met’s board, mostly city council members and elected county officials, wonder about the projected cost split of 55 percent paid by urban users and 45 percent by largely agricultural rural water customers.

          And there are doubts that farmers can afford even the cost share that might be allotted to them.

          If farmers can’t or won’t pay, warn skeptics, customers of the Met and other urban water agencies like the Santa Clara County Water District and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power would get stuck with additional costs, possibly driving rates up far more than the currently projected range of between $18 and $60 per year for an average family, depending on prevailing interest rates.

          The bottom line here might just be the bottom line: If the water districts are unwilling to make a big financial commitment, Brown’s pipe dream will die. The same if the slew of lawsuits against the twin tunnels should succeed. If that happens, what visible legacy will Brown leave after a total of 16 years as governor?


     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Monday, August 28, 2017




          Everyone in California is at least peripherally aware of the state’s ever-worsening housing crisis: It’s hard to miss when prices have jumped by as much as 75 percent over the last five years in large parts of metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and their suburbs, especially on the San Francisco Peninsula, where $3 million three-bedrooms are not unheard-of.

          One response has been a state mandate for ever-increasing numbers of affordable units in most cities and many unincorporated areas. It’s common in many places for new apartment and condominium structures to contain as up to 35 percent affordable units, available to families who qualify under various income standards based on whatever the federal poverty standard is at the moment.

          One problem is that having to build so many affordable units into their new projects forces developers to raise the price of market-rate housing. Another is that affordable units sometimes lack commonplace amenities like air conditioning. And when those units are built near light rail lines like the expanding Metro system in and around Los Angeles, required numbers of parking spaces are sometimes cut. The presumption – often false – is that residents of those buildings will not need to drive as much as others because public transit is readily available.

          None of this has yet alleviated the housing crunch, which at this year’s annual mid-winter counts found record numbers of homeless persons in some locales.

          Now the housing crisis has become a lawmaking priority, with Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders proclaiming a “shared commitment” to making a problem-solving deal.

          The devil, as always, will be in the details, and it’s anyone’s guess whether a compromise can be reached before the state Senate and Assembly go home in mid-September.

          Among major proposals so far are a bill to levy a fee of between $75 and $225 on all real estate sales, which could raise about $225 million a year for affordable housing. Passing this would take a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses, which won’t happen as easily on this as it did on Brown’s pet issue of extending cap-and-trade tactics to fight climate changes.

Another is a $4 billion-dollar general obligation bond to provide even more money. That one would need popular-vote approval next year, but might face tough sledding because it would raise the state’s debt and its annual interest payments for decades to come.

          Seeming more likely to pass is a third measure forcing cities and counties to streamline their building permit and other approval processes for new construction that includes affordable housing.

          This one could have positive effects on thousands of homeless persons, while damaging the lifestyles of millions of other Californians affected by ugly architecture, increased traffic and more crowding in their neighborhoods.

          In a statement, Ray Pearl, executive director of the California Housing Consortium, lauded all these potential laws, saying “California cannot afford to let the housing crisis go on, for the sake of families, seniors and hard-working individuals.”

          He’s right about that. But even if money for solving this longstanding problem arrives via either new taxes or a bond, there will still have to be a solution to the ongoing problems created by the fact that new housing creates a need for new transport to accommodate its occupants.

          So far, many cities are approving new housing without demanding more or wider roads, transit systems that cover entire metropolitan areas or additional parks and other amenities that might keep the new housing from damaging the lifestyles of residents already present. Many of them neither need nor qualify for affordable units, nor even want them around.

          With two-thirds votes or popular majorities forming needed elements of most solutions offered so far, legislators will have to come up with better measures than they have yet devised. Otherwise they may find these barriers far harder to surmount than they believe now, while they’re bask in the glowing aftermath of the cap-and-trade vote.

     Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is 




          The 23-campus California State University system knows it must somehow speed up graduation beyond today’s pace, which sees just 19 percent of entering freshmen graduate within four years. The low rate is at least partly because more than a third of frosh need some remedial work.

          Increased college graduation is especially crucial in three major regions: the Los Angeles area, the Central Valley and the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where need for educated workers is growing steadily as industries become more technically complex.

A study from the non-profit Public Policy Institute of California the other day found the state will need 1.1 million more college educated workers by 2030 (beyond its current pace of producing graduates) to keep up with economic demand.

          That’s one big reason the Cal State system this summer floated the idea of turning its current crop of remedial math and English classes into for-credit classes rather than leaving them as non-credit courses that don’t contribute to anyone’s graduation.

          The problem with giving academic credit for remedial classes that essentially provide students with knowledge or skills they should have picked up in high school is that it threatens to dumb down degrees from Cal State campuses from the North Coast to San Diego.

          Top officials in the Cal State system’s Long Beach headquarters know this and want to nip in the bud any suspicion about inferior diplomas.

          “We will only do this if we can do it without dumbing down the degree,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, senior spokesman for Cal State. “The most important thing we do is make sure students get a high quality education so employers know just what they’re getting when they take our people on.”

          That’s where things get dicey. How can Cal State combine standard freshman coursework with remedial lessons in the same kind of classwork, the stated goal of the putative new for-credit policy?

          “We have to do it,” Uhlenkamp said. “Classes won’t be the same as today’s when we’re trying to do catch-up and coursework all in the same breath.”

          Cal State would like to get this going, at least on a pilot basis, by next fall, which means students starting classes right about now won’t notice much change. But it’s a conundrum the nation’s largest university system hasn’t quite figured out.

          “We’re consulting faculty, campus administrations, the community colleges and everyone else we can think of with an interest in this,” Uhlenkamp added. “We’re still evaluating the best way to do it.”

          Still, it may not be possible to turn a cow into a racehorse just by calling it something different or painting it a different color.

          And yet, there’s little doubt the present system has made many students feel one-down. Some feel discriminated against because the non-credit remedial classes they’ve been required to take doom them to spending a year or more longer getting to graduation than many of their onetime high school classmates.

          So the Cal State bosses will consider criteria other than routine placement tests to determine who must get remedial work. “In the past, we’ve relied on that,” said Uhlenkamp. “But some people are just poor test takers even if they know a subject.”  The remedy will be a more holistic approach, using high school grades and scores on the SAT and ACT tests (taken by most college-bound high schoolers) in addition to placement tests as factors indicating whether students are ready for college when they arrive.

          And it’s not just Cal State that faces the remediation problem. So do the state’s community colleges, where many students who ordinarily would require catch-up classes now are being mainstreamed, some doing well.

          The bottom line: For the community colleges, Cal State and most of California, it’s a must to graduate students faster, but the trick will be to do this in a way that doesn’t decrease the quality and value of diplomas they get in the final act of their undergraduate years.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Monday, August 21, 2017




          None of the host of ultra-liberal Democrats who would love to succeed her makes the direct argument that at 84 – she’ll be one year older by next November’s election – fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein is too aged to be one of California’s two United States senators.

          But that’s what they mean. “Feinstein … is no less alert and active today than she’s been in recent years,” went one essay in California’s largest newspaper, damning her with faint praise. “Generational renewal,” the same essay continued, is one way to measure the strength of a political party. In other words, if you’re lucky enough to acquire some age, get out of the younger folks’ way.

          That’s, of course, what those younger folks would like – until and unless they also eventually acquire some years.

          By all appearances, Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee and former chair of the Intelligence Committee, is at least as active now as she was 20 years ago, when no one complained about her age. She wasn’t as loud as some others (read: California’s other senator, Kamala Harris) in questioning Donald Trump administration figures like Attorney General Jeff Sessions during nationally televised hearings last spring, but her civilly-phrased questions seemed more piercing to many. No Democrat has done more to preserve the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which provides health insurance for about 5 million previously uninsured Californians.

          In short, Feinstein has lately done as much as when she worked to thwart the conservative agenda of ex-President George W. Bush 15 years ago.

          But she’s still a centrist, which galls a lot of leftists. She’s offered compromises on water issues and won support from Central Valley farmers, while also fighting for abortion rights and other civil liberties causes. She’s a firm conservationist, the only senator actively opposing Trump appointees who seek to allow the private Cadiz Inc. to tap federally-owned groundwater beneath the Mojave Desert for profit.

She’s also been scrupulously fair to business. And she’s been responsible for several measures keeping domestic surveillance by intelligence agencies in check, while clamping down on those same agencies’ proclivity toward using torture.

          All that and more makes her able to work with Republicans and get them to listen to her reasoning on some key issues. So, yes, she’s out of tune with more radically leftist Democrats who would prefer a more ferocious, partisan approach.

          But could any of the current field of would-be Democratic senators – figures like Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna, who also used ageism in ousting longtime Rep. Mike Honda, or state Senate President Kevin de Leon or Pasadena Congressman Adam Schiff – be as effective?

          Advocates urging Feinstein not to run for a fifth full term would never cop to their obvious prejudice against anyone her age. But they want her to leave now, following the example of former colleague Barbara Boxer, who retired at 76 near the end of 2016, allowing Harris to succeed her.

          Opportunistic Democrats eagerly awaiting Feinstein’s departure will do nothing direct against her, but all know that if she runs again, they can do little to prevent yet more prospects from joining their corps long before her new term would be up. No one knows who might become a viable candidate by 2024, or even whether Democrats will still dominate in California.

          Six years ago, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was a little-known city councilman, Khanna held no office, and virtually no one knew who Schiff was. Just as things changed for them, the same could happen for unknown numbers of others over the span of a new six-year Feinstein term.

          Meanwhile, some Democrats strongly wish for Feinstein to stay. Former San Diego Congresswoman Lynn Schenk, for one, calls Feinstein “one of the most influential and respected senators” and a “canny expert on legislation” who “probes for the truth in her committees.”

          That’s what most people want in a senator, and as long as Feinstein provides it, her age should be no factor at all.


     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to




          There is no longer any doubt about whether anti-Semitism exists in America and on California college and university campuses. Even before the racist, white supremacist violence of mid-August in Charlottesville, VA, regents of the University of California recognized this, declaring unanimously last year that “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at (UC).”

          It’s possible that statement and the call for individual campus chancellors to create rules tamping down on anti-Jewish hate speech and actions caused the 2016-17 academic year’s relative quietude on this front.

          But even with things a bit more civil on UC campuses, five of them ranked among America’s top 10 for anti-Semitic incidents in a study last spring by the watchdog group AMCHA Initiative.

          Although campuses saw less outright anti-Semitic rhetoric, incendiary speech and advocacy of violence against Jews became prominent this summer at major mosques near UC campuses, mosques where many Muslim students worship. This was weeks before Charlottesville.

          The California hate speech outbreak came less than a week after three Israeli Arabs shot two Israeli Druse Muslim border guards just outside a gate to Jerusalem’s landmark Temple Mount (known in Islam as the Noble Sanctuary), site of the landmark Al Aqsa Mosque. Jews revere the hilltop compound as the site of their ancient Temple, burned by Roman occupiers; it’s also the location of legendary episodes in the lives of the Biblical Abraham and the prophet Mohammad. Christians know it as the place where Jesus overturned the tables of money changers.

Israel set up metal detectors at the gate after the shootings, sparking a non-violent Muslim protest seeing worshippers refuse to enter the area so long as there was added security.

          In reacting, imams at mosques near UC Davis and UC Riverside launched anti-Semitic tirades, going far beyond criticism of Israel and its actions.

          In the Islamic Center of Davis, directly across a street from the city’s UC campus, Imam Ammar Shahin prayed for Allah to “liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and to “annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.” That’s a call for killing Jews everywhere, not only in Israel. Of course, no Jews occupied the mosque. If students in Shahin’s audience were to act this fall against Jewish students at Davis, should anyone be surprised?

          The Davis mosque quickly pulled footage of Shahin’s polemic from YouTube, but left up a video of the 30-year-old Egyptian-born cleric smiling as he taught a UC Davis class on Muslim marriages.

          At almost the same time Shahin preached hate in Davis, Imam Mahmoud Harmoush of the Islamic Center of Riverside, near UC Riverside, also preached a hateful, factually false sermon. First he claimed a plot between World Wars I and II to steal land in Palestine from Muslims through “killing, crime and massacres.”

He added that Jews are now trying to extend the Israel-Arab conflict to “most of the Middle East, and even…to Mecca and Medina.” He ended with a call for Allah to “destroy them and rend them asunder and turn them…into the hands of the Muslims.” Like Shahin, he did not target Israeli government policy, but used historically false libels in his call for destruction of all Jews.

          Both imams’ Arabic-language comments were translated by the authoritative Middle East Media Research Institute; both later apologized. Shahin said he let emotion “cloud my better judgment” and that he understands “speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts. For this I truly apologize.”

          Said Harmoush, “All life is sacred and every person has a sacred right to respect, safety and liberty.”

          Which words from these men will most influence students in their congregations?

          No one knows, but the founder of one organization tracking campus anti-Semitism said, “Our studies show the more anti-Semitic rhetoric, the more anti-Semitic actions on campuses…”

          While these two sermons were clearly anti-Semitic, no one outside their organizations knows how often the imams have spoken similarly. None of this occurred on campuses, so it doesn’t fall under UC’s anti-discrimination policies. But UC and other institutions where both imams have taught clearly would be wise to keep both imams out of publicly-funded classrooms in the future.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Monday, August 14, 2017




          “Give light and the people will find their own way.” – longtime slogan of the now-defunct Scripps Howard Newspapers group.

          The essence of that motto, written early in the last century, was a strong belief that if Americans know enough about an issue or politician or political choice, they will act in their own self-interest.

          Sadly, this conviction has not been tested much in recent years. The advent of social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provides Americans and others with more information than ever, but much of it is bogus, what President Trump likes to call “fake news.”

          Especially since outfits like Scripps Howard and the Knight publishing company disappeared from the landscape, along with many family owned newspapers, there’s less of the reliable, hard news that reporters can gather only by expending shoe leather and persistence.

          And since the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s been difficult for anyone to know the true funders of the frequent messages, commercials and other ads conveyed via television, radio, social media and those newspapers that still try to inform the public.

          That’s why for much of this decade, the most important proposal before the California Legislature has been a bill known as the Disclose Act, most actively pushed by an organization called the Clean Money Campaign.

          As first conceived, this proposed law would require disclosure of the leading funders of all political advertising and ballot initiative petitions in large letters, one version of the idea demanding those names be listed in lettering that matches the largest type used anywhere else in the same advertisement.

          This plan has now been broken apart a bit. One part, covering only initiative petitions, passed both the state Senate and a key Assembly committee before the Legislature’s annual midsummer break. This one would force all initiative petitions to carry the names of their three top funders in large letters in a prominent location. It would also not allow big-money interests to hide behind vague committee names like “Californians Against New Taxes” or the like.

          But once an initiative makes the ballot, becoming an actual proposition, there would be no more such information. So-called “dark money” contributors could go back into hiding.

          But not if another part of the proposal should pass. This bill, carried by former Democratic Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez of East Los Angeles until his summertime election to Congress, would require large-letter donor disclosures in all ads for both candidates and propositions.

          While there appear to be few obstacles to eventual passage of the bill covering initiative petitions, the outlook may not be as rosy for its wider-ranging companion.

          When Gomez left for Congress, there was temporarily no legislative sponsor for this measure. Only at the last moment did the Senate Rules Committee, led by Democratic Senate President Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, OK a bid by San Mateo’s Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Mullin to be the necessary sponsor.

          The fact this non-dispute went on awhile cost the bill precious time, reducing chances of passage this summer. It’s true there’s some potential for it to pass this fall or next year, but next year is an election year and labor unions which fund many Democratic campaigns oppose this plan.

          So it’s safe to say the real meat of the Disclose Act – prominent disclosure of the largest contributors in all political ads – is not exactly a high priority for de Leon and other legislative leaders, even though he and others nominally support the idea.

          Fully 12,000 persons petitioned the Rules Committee to allow Mullin to become the latest Disclose Act sponsor, with 1,500 persons telephoning the committee, too. It will likely take much more support than that to push this idealistic measure through a Legislature still patting itself on the back for extending cap-and-trade environmental tactics to cut greenhouse gases.

          Which very likely means yet another election season will go by without a thorough test of that old Scripps Howard motto.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to




          Depending on how things go in a scheduled Aug. 23 state Senate confirmation hearing on Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest choice for a seat on the powerful state Public Utilities Commission, many millions of consumers could face both health risks and higher-than-necessary electric, gas and water bills for the next six years.

          That’s the length of the term to which Brown appointed his longtime close aide Clifford Rechtschaffen, labeled a “lapdog” of the oil industry by some consumer advocates. Once confirmed, he can’t be fired by either Brown or the next governor.

The Consumer Watchdog group tags him a utility lapdog, claiming Rechtschaffen in 2011 told two top state oil and gas regulators to grant hydraulic fracking permits for Occidental Petroleum Co. in Kern County on pain of firing. When they refused, citing state and federal laws requiring drinking water aquifer safety checks prior to permitting, he allegedly dismissed Derek Chernow, then acting director of the state Department of Conservation, and Elena Miller, the state’s top oil and gas supervisor. It is undisputed fact that after they were dumped by Brown’s administration, Rechtschaffen temporarily assumed Chernow’s job.

          In appointing him to the five-member PUC, which often favors utility companies over their customers, Brown said his adviser “has the experience as a lawyer, teacher and specialist in environmental and energy matters…to do an outstanding job.”

          Meanwhile, a usually reliable source told this column that Rechtschtaffen wrote one or more of 63 still-secret emails between Brown or his aides and the PUC from the time soon after the 2012 failure and shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. That source also said one email threatened the job of a PUC official unless that official supported a settlement dunning consumers more than two-thirds of San Onofre’s closure costs – or $3.3 billion.

          Brown press secretary Evan Westrup called this claim “pure fiction,” but neither confirmed nor denied that Rechtschaffen wrote one or more of the hidden emails, instead citing a PUC spokeswoman’s statement that “the emails in question did not relate to the San Onofre settlement…” Westrup did not respond when shown a PUC statement saying the emails were withheld in part because they reflect “discussions between … (PUC President Michael) Picker and his advisors, the disclosure of which would reveal (his) thought process regarding the matter.”

          The San Onofre settlement is notorious for its essence having been reached in a secret meeting between former PUC President Michael Peevey and executives of the Southern California Edison Co. Revelations of that meeting impelled the PUC in May 2016 to order a reopening of its settlement decision.

          Rechtschaffen ignored a request to answer questions on all this. His confirmation is before the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Democratic Senate President Kevin de Leon. Similar hearings for PUC appointees have almost always been love fests between senators and appointees. More of the same seems likely this time, as de Leon craves support from Brown for his bill to make the entire state a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

          Brown openly questions parts of that plan, and no one knows what he might do if de Leon’s committee were tough on his aide Rechtschtaffen.

          Meanwhile, press secretary Westrup called questions about Rechtschaffen’s record “chasing bogus conspiracy theories.” He insisted the appointee will be independent. “You should know that sharp, independent thinking is among the attributes valued most by the administration,” he wrote in an email.

          The most significant PUC move during Rechtschaffen’s six months as an acting commissioner came when it signed off on the partial reopening of the Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field in northern Los Angeles. Area residents, many still suffering from malaises associated with a five-month methane leak there in 2015-16, complained Aliso Canyon should not have reopened until the still-unknown causes of the leak are found.

          Commissioners did not vote on the reopening, but could have objected or asked the PUC’s executive director not to OK it. Neither Rechtschaffen nor any other commissioner did that.

          Now it’s incumbent on Rules Committee members to ask Rechtschaffen why he did not speak up when public health might be at risk. His answers could provide clues about whether he’ll be independent of the companies he’s set to regulate.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to  

Monday, August 7, 2017




          The last year saw no major outbreaks of measles or any of the other nine potentially fatal diseases against which California public schoolchildren must be vaccinated – one possible result of a 2016 law that eliminated a “personal belief” exemption that formerly allowed thousands of youngsters to attend school without vaccinations.

          This “no news is good news” will see many parents drop off their kids with a new sense of security as schools open this fall.

          There’s a good reason for their relief: Vaccination rates of 7th-graders reportedly reached record levels during the last school year, the first in which the new, stricter rules applied.

          Seventh-graders can’t register for school unless they’ve had booster immunizations against tetanus (also called lockjaw), diphtheria and pertussis (better known as whooping cough). And if they haven’t previously been vaccinated against another seven diseases (measles, bacterial meningitis, mumps, polio, rubella, hepatitis B and chicken pox), those 7th graders must get it done before their enrollments can proceed.

          Now the state Department of Public Health reports that 7th-graders meeting school-entry vaccination requirements stood at 98.4 percent last spring, up 1.8 percent from three years earlier.

          That 1.8 percent can make a big difference, especially for the small percentage of schoolchildren who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons like being immune-suppressed by drugs needed to keep organ transplants going. Only 0.4 percent of school pupils now get medical exemptions.

          This leaves only about 1 percent of students unvaccinated for all other reasons, most of them the residue from the era when personal-belief exemptions were available to parents who dislike vaccinations. Those kids are allowed to continue in school until 7th grade, when they must provide written evidence of vaccination. The unvaccinated are now a small enough portion of the school population to minimize chances for any new outbreaks of the targeted diseases.

          The new law and the new emphasis on getting virtually all kids vaccinated stemmed from a 2014-15 outbreak of measles that struck some visitors to Disneyland and eventually infected 136 Californians, many of whom never visited the Orange County theme park but came into contact with people who did. Studies showed that no more than 86 percent of persons at Disneyland when the infections occurred had been vaccinated, not enough to ensure the safety of everyone there. Because some folks probably lied to researchers, the actual vaccination rate may have been as low as 50 percent, reported the Journal of the American Medical Association.

          In 2014, also, whooping cough was declared epidemic in California and listed as the cause of death of three infants too young for vaccination. They had likely been exposed to other children who were never vaccinated.

          The new numbers and the relief they bring to parents who want certainty that their children are safe do not, however, mean that everyone who used the old personal belief exemption (essentially allowing anyone to claim – with no verification – a religious conviction against vaccinations) has now acquiesced.

          Authorities estimate about half those who previously refused to vaccinate their children found other ways to preserve them in that status: vaccinations are not required for children being homeschooled, nor do families leaving the state need to comply. Precise numbers for these types of avoidance do not exist because California’s Department of Education doesn’t track either the number of homeschooled children or the number of parents migrating elsewhere for this reason.

          But at least those kids won’t be carrying any of the once-dreaded diseases into the state’s schoolrooms, making those who do attend schools as safe as they’ve ever been.

          None of this has come easily; opposition to vaccination remains and bogus negative medical studies on it abound. But several judges declined to issue injunctions against the law when they were sought by vaccination opponents and an effort to quality an anti-vaccination initiative for next year’s ballot has gone nowhere.

          So it appears the vaccination law will survive indefinitely, making schools and all public venues significantly safer for children, seniors and the immune-suppressed for the foreseeable future.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to




          As a new school year gets set to open on the nine campuses of the University of California, it’s fair for parents of prospective students to ask once again, as many have for at least the last eight years, whose UC will it be?

          The question first arose during the Great Recession that began about nine years ago, a time when UC began accepting more and more out-of-state and foreign students to help make up for funding cuts inflicted by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators.

          Over 12 years, the foreign and out-of-state enrollment at UC – some of whose campuses are routinely listed among the top five public universities in America and the world – rose from 5 percent to more than 21 percent. University administrators were forced to concede the $26,000 in extra tuition paid by the children of Arab oil sheiks and Chinese multi-millionaires and government-subsidized students from myriad other places had a lot to do with their vastly increased numbers at UC.

Meanwhile, the proportion of highly eligible California high school graduates who actually went to UC was falling despite their supposedly being guaranteed a slot somewhere in the university.

          About two years ago, administrators began feeling some heat over this, with state legislators threatening to cut the taxpayer contributions to UC coffers unless the trend stopped.

          So UC regents voted overwhelmingly in late 2015 for a plan to increase in-state enrollment by 5,000 students in each of the next two years, this fall being the plan’s second year.

          This action, proposed by UC President Janet Napolitano, amounted to a tacit admission that the critics were correct.

          Since then, there has been a bit of a shift toward higher enrollments of Californians at UC. The system announced as it sent out acceptance offers this spring it would have 2,500 more California undergraduates than it did two years ago. Not exactly the 10,000 promised by the university’s governing board back then, but progress nonetheless.

          In fact, UC reported that admission offers to Californians declined this year by about 1,200 from last year, a drop of almost 2 percent. Meanwhile, a reported 31,030 non-Californians got admission offers, a jump of about 4 percent from last year.

          Justifiable outcries began immediately. “UC officials are tone deaf and insensitive to Californians and the (state’s) master plan for higher education,” said Northern California Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen. “Californians subsidize UC so that their children may attend and learn to be competitive in this global economy. Instead, UC officials are admitting non-Californians to the detriment of California students.”

          What Nielsen said is more true of the primo UC campuses like Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego and Irvine than it is of those at Riverside, Merced and Santa Cruz, which are in somewhat less demand by out-of-staters.

          UCLA admitted just 14.6 percent of California hopefuls this year, even as it became the first American public university to get more than 100,000 admission applications. Berkeley took just 19.7 percent, with out-of-staters eating up many slots that otherwise could go to Californians.

          As they previously have, UC officials predicted in-state enrollments would actually rise, noting they have longstanding analyses of how many admission offers are acted on by non-Californians.

          But there are new questions about the reliability of statements from Napolitano and her staff. A state audit, for example, showed the president’s office squirreled away about $175 million over the last few years in a slush fund, at the same time tuition rose by almost the same amount. That led to great mistrust, which many governors would have resolved by firing the perpetrators.

          But, as usual with financial chicanery conducted by officials associated with Gov. Jerry Brown, no one was punished and business carried on, following pious pledges to clean up their act from Napolitano and other administrators.

          All of which leads parents of prospective UC students to feel betrayed by and untrusting of a system originally created to serve people like their children.

    Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is